The King Cake is a New Orleans tradition that involves a pastry, a small plastic baby, and a party. The King Cake is baked with a small plastic baby hidden inside, the person who gets the slice with baby in it has to host the next party.
The traditional colors of Mardi Gras are purple, green, and gold. These are said to have been chosen in 1892, when the Rex Parade theme "Symbolism of Colors" gave the colors their meanings.
Purple means justice, green means faith, and gold means power.
What's the meaning behind king cake?
The cake got its start a long, long time ago. We're talking the Middle Ages! The first king cakes were made in Europe in celebration of the Catholic Epiphany, also known as Three Kings Day (January 6). For those of us who haven't visited a nativity scene in a while, a reminder: It's a celebration of the day when the three wise men were said to have visited baby Jesus and showered him with gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
The French brought the cake with them to Louisiana in the 1870s, and all these years later, it's become synonymous with the French Quarter, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, and all the rest of those good things in New Orleans. But the cake is popular in lots of different cities and states. King cake is very much a seasonal cake—available in early January, at the beginning of carnival season, and then it goes away Ash Wednesday when everyone is giving up something for Lent.
What is king cake?
King cake is a ring of sweet pastry that's covered in lots of icing and purple, yellow, and green sprinkles. Some folks make their king cake more like bread and others prefer a more cakey version—there's no right way. Most are usually flavored vanilla, cinnamon, or some cream cheesy combo. But they're always round with a hollowed-out center—think of it like a crown that you could put on your head if you were feeling particularly festive.
On the outside, king cake is usually covered with delicious icing and oodles and oodles of green, purple, and yellow sprinkles. Those colors aren't random. The green symbolizes faith; purple stands for power, and yellow represents justice. Oh—and there's always a tiny plastic baby hidden in there too.
Why is there a plastic baby in a king cake?
Don't worry! It's not that little, so there's no fear that you're going to eat it without knowing. The plastic baby just makes eating king cake more fun. In fact, it kind of makes it a sport. Everyone wants to find that little baby. Some say the little baby is Baby Jesus, and others just think of him as a symbol of luck or prosperity. Whoever gets the slice with the baby is "crowned" king or queen for the day and is said to be on his or her way to a very good year. So not only do you get to eat cake, but you basically have a shot at becoming royalty, if only for one day.